Grain storage buildings never looked so fabulous.
Cape Town’s The Silo Hotel – named after the former grain-silo complex in which it is housed – opened its doors in March as an instant Cape Town landmark.
From the outside, it’s an industrial monolith with a standout set of 25-feet-high convex windows overlooking the popular V&A Waterfront. The inside, by contrast, is a riot of color, pattern and glamor, with 28 individually designed rooms stocked with vibrant custom furnishings, oversized chandeliers and feature artworks.
Africa’s most expensive city hotel (rooms start at about $900 in the low season) is based six floors above the soon-to-open Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) – touted to become Cape Town’s answer to Le Louvre and the Tate Modern – and features a spa, a panoramic rooftop bar with swimming pool and The Vault, the hotel’s very own private gallery of African contemporary artists in the building’s basement.
The Silo: Is this Africa's best new hotel?
The original silo building was completed in 1924, and at nearly 200 feet high, once held the title as sub-Saharan Africa’s tallest building. It was the premier grain silo for all of South Africa, where all of the country’s small farmers’ yields were deposited for export.
When the silo complex closed its operations in 2001, South African hotelier Liz Biden saw a future opportunity.
“We have always wanted to open a hotel in our home city of Cape Town but we were waiting for the perfect property and opportunity to arise,” says Biden, whose hotel collection, the Royal Portfolio, features some of South Africa’s most luxurious lodgings.
It took four and a half years for the collaborative vision between Biden, the V&A Waterfront complex and London-based starchitect Thomas Heatherwick to come to life, with the hotel now occupying the former elevator portion of the silo (the upcoming art museum is a separate operation from the hotel).
Heatherwick spearheaded the exterior revamp, which had to be done carefully to preserve the complex’s heritage status. Thus, the building retains its austere appearance save for the show-stopping geodesic window installations, which “billow” up to three feet out from the building’s facade.
“Heatherwick wanted the redeveloped building to appear as if it were gently inflated like a glowing beacon in the harbor,” Biden says.
The Silo Hotel’s glass-and-concrete construct is a far departure from Biden’s colorful, eclectic aesthetic seen in all her other properties.
“Designing the interiors of The Silo Hotel has been a complicated task,” Biden admits, needing to work around the building’s limited space and original interiors. “I have tried to contrast the stark exterior of the building with warm colors, vibrant fabrics, exciting ornaments, and contemporary art to create a lively and welcoming space.”
The rooms and suites have Biden’s signature eccentric, elegant look – assorted bric-a-brac inspired from personal travels; color-blocked interiors where you might find handmade teal headboards alongside bubblegum pink dressers; Persian carpets; Egyptian crystal chandeliers (there are 80 in the hotel) and painted portraits by Africa’s premiere artists such as Frances Goodman and Jody Paulsen.
The rooms’ highlights are the bathrooms, each expansive in size with a large tub set dramatically in the middle of a 56-paneled window – with a crystal chandelier dangling gracefully from above.
Most of the furnishings and art pieces were custom-made in Cape Town, with very few elements from outside the country. Ardmore, a premium Durban-based ceramics company, teamed with Biden to make patterned headboards and pillows in select spaces. The hotel’s high-ceilinged lobby is dominated by local Haldane Martin’s structural Tesla chandelier.
The inclusion of contemporary works from artists such as Kenya-born Cyrus Kabiru in the corridors suggests a “blending” into the space below the hotel which in September will house the largest collection of African contemporary art.
“We are extremely happy to be situated above the museum [Zeitz MOCAA] which will be a remarkable attraction for Cape Town and for South Africa. It really will be something special,” Biden says.
“We must be the only hotel in the world situated directly above such a prestigious art museum.”
As luxurious as The Silo’s rooms and suites might be, many might find the nightly rates to be a tad exorbitant for an urban South Africa hotel, with the entry-level Silo Rooms starting at 12,000 ZAR (about $940) per night in the low season for a 441 square feet room with balcony.
The gated 13-bedroom mansion hotel Ellerman House, perhaps The Silo’s main “best African hotel” competitor also based in Cape Town, has comparable rates yet is more exclusive – its cliffside lap pool, restaurant, spa and owner-curated contemporary private art gallery are only open to guests and their companions.
For those who can’t afford a stay in Africa’s most expensive city hotel, there’s always the restaurant and bar options.
The Willaston Bar and Granary Cafe are based on the sixth-floor reception level, the former a vision of velvety jewel-toned booths with floor-to-ceiling window views of Cape Town’s iconic flat-top mountain.
The Granary Cafe is an informal dining space led by star South African chef Veronica Canha-Hibbert, and features a small raw bar selection, dishes such as steak frites and confit pork belly and a European-style Sunday Lunch menu.
The rooftop lounge/bar and swimming pool – with uninhibited 360-degree views of the urban landscape, the formidable Table Mountain, harbor and the Atlantic Ocean – are unsurprisingly in-demand during those sundowner hours, making The Silo Cape Town’s hottest hotel hangout of the moment.
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The Silo Hotel, Silo Square, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa; +27 (0) 21 670 0500
Travis Levius is a globetrotting writer, editor and photographer for the likes of BBC Travel, Business Insider and Forbes Travel Guide. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his travel/inspiration blog MisterLevius.com.